Playing for Time (film)

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Playing for Time
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Daniel Mann
Produced by Linda Yellen
John E. Quill
Bernard Sofronski (Executive Producer)
Written by Arthur Miller
Fania Fénelon ( autobiography The Musicians of Auschwitz)
Starring Vanessa Redgrave
Jane Alexander
Release dates
  • September 30, 1980 (1980-09-30)
Running time
150 min.
Language English

Playing For Time is a 1980 CBS television film, written by Arthur Miller and Fania Fénelon, based on Fénelon's autobiography, The Musicians of Auschwitz. Vanessa Redgrave stars as acclaimed musician Fania Fénelon.

Playing For Time was based on Fénelon's experience as a female prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she and a group of classical musicians were spared in return for performing music for their captors. The film was also adapted as a play by Arthur Miller.

This was the last film of Daniel Mann, who co-directed with Joseph Sargent.


Fénelon, a Jewish singer-pianist, is sent with other prisoners to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a crowded train during World War II. After having their belongings and clothes taken and their heads shaved, the prisoners are processed and enter the camp. Fénelon is recognized as being a famous musician and she finds that she will be able to avoid hard manual labor and survive longer by becoming a member of the prison's female orchestra, Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz.

In the process, she strikes up a close relationship with Alma Rosé, the musical group's leader, as well as the other members of the band. Realizing that the musicians get better treatment than other prisoners, Fania convinces the guards and members of the orchestra that another prisoner she had befriended, Marianne, is actually a talented singer. Although Marianne performs poorly at her audition, she is allowed to join the orchestra. Playing for the Nazis, however, robs the women of much of their dignity and most of them often questioned whether remaining alive was worth the abuse they constantly suffer.


The cast rehearsed together in New York and subsequently filmed in Pennsylvania on a six-week shooting schedule. During the half-way stage of shooting the producers decided to replace Joseph Sargent with Daniel Mann as director.[1] The singer Martha Schlamme also had a small role, listed as "Woman on train".[2]

It is also notable as one of the first film productions where an ensemble of actresses shaved their heads for the sake of their roles.[1]

Casting controversy[edit]

The producer Linda Yellen was determined to cast Redgrave in the lead role at a time when the actress was facing protests from Jewish organizations for her criticism of Zionism and her pro-Palestinian position. Subsequently security was required at rehearsals and Yellen's office was broken into. There were further complications when Fenelon herself appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes arguing against Redgrave's casting and suggested Jane Fonda as a replacement. During the production Fenelon continued to criticize Redgrave's politics on her speaking tours across the USA. Actresses on the project had also been contacted with the view of making a statement against Redgrave's casting. They refused and instead released a press release denouncing blacklisting and expressed their desire to work with Redgrave.[1]

As a result of Redgrave's political views, the film was initially banned in Israel, although she appealed to Jordan's culture minister to buy the rights to the film to show on Jordanian television. She wished that both Arabs and Israelis should have the opportunity to see the film.[1]



Playing for Time was praised by critics and garnered several awards and nominations;[3]

Primetime Emmy Award

Golden Globe Award

Peabody Award

DVD release[edit]

After its television broadcast, the film was released on VHS. It was DVD released in the United States in 2010.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d Redgrave, Vanessa (1991). Vanessa Redgrave: An Autobiography. Hutchinson. 
  2. ^ IMDb, Martha Schlamme,
  3. ^ Awards for Playing for Time IMDB. Retrieved on 28 August 2010
  4. ^ Playing for Time DVD Talk. 2 August 2010

Playing for Time - main symbols

External links[edit]